Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia - The Beginning

2011 Recipient: Nancy Ann Jones









Nancy Ann Jones


Nancy Ann Jones, a woman who lives life and teaches by her living, is the first recipient of the Hagia Sophia Lifetime Achievement Award. Elders like her in the Pagan community inspired Temple of the Goddess to create this new honor. Nancy Ann, 74, is a wife, mother, artist, sacred pipe carrier, and Wiccan Priestess. Early on, she took ordination as minister in the Universal Life Church so she could marry, bury, and bless babies. Her journey continues even as the Pagan community acknowledges a life well lived.


Born in Pasadena, Nancy Ann Jones mostly grew up not far away in Altadena, where she completed high school and later married Fenton, her high school sweetheart, to whom she is still married. The Joneses have five children, four daughters and a son. Despite having tough childhoods themselves, Nancy Ann says she and her husband managed to raise five well-adjusted, self-motivated adults. All four daughters are very spiritual, she says. They all chose paths different from her own, but all find great peace in the paths they walk.


Today Nancy Ann is an artist who works in many mediums. She paints, draws, and once used to sculpt and do ceramics. But she didn't always have an interest in art. As a child, she confesses, she was very bright, but difficult. She says she was one of those kids who didn't understand boundaries.


"I was always pissing off grown-ups. They didn't know what to do with me. I was always asking questions that were none of my business." Now she sees that even then she made somee of her own difficulties. "I always chose the hard way." An integral part of her spiritual path is learning to see her part in the difficulties with others and with her life in general. When she had her own children she told them she would never lie, so be careful what you ask. She felt a need to do this because as a child she lied a lot. She felt she was always going to get in trouble so she always had a lie ready. Today integrity is the most important part of her path. She says being responsible for and present in your life is a major part of living.


One of many altars built in a sacred lifetime. 

Art became an interest in graduate school at Cal State Northridge. There she got interested in art history especially ancient Pagan art and began to take some classes in Anthropology. But college was something she did later in life. She went back to school when her youngest child was eight. She did her undergraduate work at Pasadena City College. Her family was important to her and so was education. She was very involved in her children's schools and was awarded the National PTA Life Achievement Award. The PTA calls it "the highest honor from the nation's largest child advocacy organization to the person who daily lives out his or her commitment to children." Nancy Ann sent the certificate back because it had "Mrs. Jones" on it. She felt that could be anyone, her mother-in-law, or a second wife of her husband. They told her they wouldn't change it, that this was just the way they always did things.


Nancy Ann did work in the art world for a while. There were two jobs that stood out. One was as an art fabricator and the other was overseeing a project for Isamu Noguchi, the prominent Japanese American artist and landscape architect. Eventually she stopped working to focus on her family.


Then she got involved with The Woman's Building in Los Angeles, a home for feminist art and artists. She later became the Program Director there and organized classes, programs, and special events "with thoughtfulness and attention," according to Ruth Ann Anderson, an artist she met at The Woman's Building who also became a lifelong friend and travel partner. They spent time in England exploring the physical and spiritual landscape of that ancient land.


Before her travels to England, Nancy Ann became involved with a Native American group. She welcomed the difficult and transformative experiences that were a part of their spiritual path. As she said before, she always chooses the hard way.


The Native American path provided many transformative experiences. She spent a night by herself on a mountain top and was amazed by the way the sky spiraled through the night. She also spent a night in her own grave, hours in a blistering sweat lodge, three days at a sun dance, and went on numerous vision quests. "These experiences push you to your limit." She feels you need to "throw your shadow to your feet, be present and accountable." She recommends this path if you want to transform your life.


Nancy Ann says she can't believe now that she used to just pack her backpack and go off to England. "I couldn't have done it without the transformation, the tough work I did to find out who I was." As an ordained Wiccan Priestess, she brings her past experiences to bear on this path."


When I design ritual I keep transformation in mind. All these practices work on the subconscious. Ceremony is about getting to that receptive place to receive knowledge." This can be knowledge of higher things or simply the truth about a situation in your life. She continues to create a space for ceremony by creating an altar on the Day of the Dead at the Folk Tree in Pasadena. Using her art and her knowledge she helps people to connect with loved ones who have crossed over.


All she went through helped her cope with life. Today she is dealing with health issues and says she is kind of a hermit, but that everything she needs is right there. Her family supports her and she enjoys bartering with her daughters for art. Not always up to going into her studio, she continues to create her art using whatever is available. For a while now she has been making folded art books out of recycled paper. She is very concerned for the Earth and does what she can to help by reusing and recycling. And as always she finds a way to make art. She says paper with foreign languages or legal speak written on them become art. Those things that are undecipherable to her become just visual images, a part of the design of her books.


Words are also important to her in their decipherable form. She is a Sun Dance Singer and loves to sing the chants as she drives through the mountains with the windows down. She not only sings, but has written journals for years and also has done something called "evidence journaling" where you collect physical things from your experiences. She feels these journals are part of the legacy she leaves for those who come after her.


Though she feels the need to get back to her studio to continue to create her art, she is also  preparing for when she is no longer on the physical plane. Perhaps nearly seventeen years of creating altars for the Day of the Dead has kept this ultimate transformation in mind. She has begun to take stock of her things and figure out where they will go when she is gone. This fits in with her strong conviction that we must take responsibility for our lives; this means all the way to the end. Temple of the Goddess' Wisdom Legacy Library will allow Nancy Ann's work to be available to the community. "I'm very honored and thankful that my ceremonial writings will belong to the group," she says. Some artwork that she feels will be useful to the community will also become a part of the collection.



Nancy Ann says she has no regrets about giving her time and energy to her family, her art, the Pagan community, and the community at large. "I've had the most extraordinary adult life."






Article written by: Joanne Elliott

All photos by: Robin Dudley-Howes